River Rock Cannabis COO Jim Elftmann strips excess leaves from plants at the company's growing facility in Denver in September 2015. Plants at River Rock Cannabis are grown in pots of peat moss, which is used as part of the organic growing process. (Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

Colorado lawmakers reject organic labeling for marijuana

A Colorado proposal to certify organic marijuana has been rejected amid concerns the labels would imply pot is healthy.

The bill rejected in a legislative committee Tuesday would have created a first-of-its-kind label for marijuana that had been produced without pesticides.

The proposal failed 4-3 in a Senate committee. Some lawmakers said the labels could wrongly imply that marijuana is harmless.

“It will mislead people to thinking marijuana doesn’t have any health effects, that it’s OK,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. “It kind of puts a stamp of approval on it.”

The sponsor of the measure scoffed at the suggestion.

“Does that label mean there are no health effects? That’s it’s healthy, it’s wholesome?” asked Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “I don’t think anyone is going to be under any false illusions.”

Other lawmakers worried that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would penalize state agriculture regulators for labeling pot as organic. The bill called for state regulators to come up with the exact rules for getting organic labels.

Colorado would have been the first state to regulate organic labels in its pot industry. Consumer confusion over organic marijuana peaked in Colorado last year, when Denver health authorities seized thousands of marijuana plants from growers suspected of using off-limits chemicals on their plants.

Most of the plants were ultimately released, but some were sold with names that suggested the products were natural or organic.

Sponsors said that consumers are currently confused about organic marijuana claims.

“Cannabis consumers, or tomato consumers, or any product consumer wants to know what goes into what they’re using,” said Ben Gelt of the Denver-based Organic Cannabis Association, an industry group pushing for organic pot standards.

Gelt pointed out that chocolate and wine — not exactly health foods — are nonetheless eligible for organic certification.

Organic standards are regulated federally, and pot remains illegal at the federal level, meaning there’s nothing stopping commercial pot growers from calling their wares organic.

A professional grower talks about organic issues: